9:00am PT by Kate Stanhope
'Future Man': How 'Back to the Future' and 'Terminator 2' Inspired Seth Rogen's Hulu Comedy
When Josh Hutcherson first met with Seth Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg about Future Man, he knew immediately it was something special.
"They pitched me this show that was so ridiculous and so unique and nothing like I had seen anywhere before," the Hunger Games actor recalls from his trailer on the Hulu series' Culver City set.
It might sound like standard hyperbolic actor talk, but a closer look at the premise of the Hulu comedy suggests otherwise.
The half-hour, which premieres its entire 13-episode first season Tuesday, centers on a world-ranked gamer named Josh (Hutcherson), who works as a janitor at a research facility for sexual diseases. One day, two mysterious visitors from the future named Tiger (Happy Endings' Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Preacher's Derek Wilson) — who bear striking resemblance to characters from one of Josh's favorite video games — inform him he must travel through time in order to prevent humanity's extinction.
Created by Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, Future Man was originally intended as a feature film when Rogen and his longtime writing and producing partner Goldberg came onboard.
"The best things we've done are when we combine comedy and a genre of some sort," Rogen explains, pointing to their hit films like horror-comedy This Is the End or action-comedy Pineapple Express. "With this, we grew up loving movies like Back to the Future and Terminator and there were just so many great sci-fi movies in the '80s and '90s."
Rogen also points to major video game influences from that time like The Last Starfighter and Project X. "It was stuff we were always referencing on the other shows we worked on together but it had never applied as well as to this," he says.
After so many years on the shelf and with "Peak TV" on the rise, "it all of a sudden became a really exciting way to try to tell the story instead of trying to pack it within two hours," Rogen says.
However, that presented new challenges as well, not only because of the heavily serialized nature of the high-concept story, but also because of the shorter episode length of a 30-minute comedy as compared to an hourlong drama.
"There's more infrastructure in place for making dramas ambitious than with half-hour comedy," Rogen says. "The idea of giving it scope and excitement and things of that nature, that's actually been one of the biggest challenges of the show."
Rogen and Goldberg, who directed the pilot together as well as several other season one episodes, aimed for a "cinematic" approach. "Every movement has a purpose, every shot feels like it has a purpose," Rogen explains.
That's also because the show is filmed to reflect every era it time-travels to. "When time travel happens, the main way you know it happened is the aesthetic change," Goldberg says. "We change how the show looks when we go to a different time period and that's the best part. Anytime we choose a different time to go to, something different is going to happen."
Future Man's ambitious scope also made casting the lead role a unique challenge. Thankfully, both Rogen and Goldberg knew exactly what they were looking for. "Michael J. Fox was someone who we were constantly referencing with the character," Goldberg says.
Hutcherson quickly jumped to the front of the line when he worked with Rogen and Goldberg on the former's upcoming directorial effort The Disaster Artist. "When someone has a small part and they're the one you can't forget, that means something," Goldberg says.
For Hutcherson, the role marked not only his biggest comedy part to date, but also his first regular series role. However, the prospect of working with Rogen and Goldberg was a "no-brainer," according to him. "They are very much on a roll and everything they touch, comedically, just really works."
The Hunger Games star not only signed on to star, but also to produce the series through his Turkeyfoot Productions banner. "I always have loved being a part of a collaboration with others and when you're only acting, you don't quite have the same level of comfort expressing your ideas about certain things," he explains.
For Hutcherson, that paying particular care to the Josh character as he evolved over the course of the first season from "Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future and then ending more like Eddie Furlong in Terminator 2," the actor says. "We wanted to ground this craziness in reality with a very relatable character."
So far, the transition to comedy has been "really fun and really hard because it’s a lot of energy and a lot of effort," Hutcherson says. "I really enjoyed the comedic element of it and the freedom of improv. Just finding things in the moment is really great."
Certainly, some of that freedom also came from the show landing at Hulu. The streamer ordered a pilot for Future Man in August 2015 back when it was just ramping up its slate of original series. At the time, Hulu was known for a small handful of originals like Deadbeat and Hotwives, and was readying the launches of eventual Golden Globe nominee Casual and Fox transplant The Mindy Project.
"Hulu got excited in the room and got heavily engaged and asked lots of intriguing questions and threw out their own ideas," Goldberg says. "It just seemed like they'd be fun to work with."
Since then, Hulu's fortunes have changed with successes like The Handmaid's Tale, which made Hulu the first streamer to win a best series Emmy in September. Thanks also to the Trump era, the drama has proven to be a breakout hit for the company, helping to drive subscriptions up 98 percent, combined with the recent additions of in-demand TV series like Will & Grace (the original run) and This Is Us.
"Hulu has done a great job at giving chances to left-of-center content. Seeing The Handmaid’s Tale shows that Hulu will support creativity and push boundaries," Hutcherson says. "I think their recent success is going to help allow them to continue to push the envelope."
Hulu was also an appealing home because of the extra creative freedom it allowed, ranging from episode lengths to language. "You just don't have to limit your thinking. You can think in an unfiltered way whether you're going to use all of it or not," Rogen says.
Adds Hutcherson: "Even in the pilot episode, some of the stuff that we do you could never show on network TV by a million miles. It's great to be able to have Hulu really supporting this thing that is really weird and different."
When asked what will draw eyeballs to Future Man and Hulu, Hutcherson is confident viewers will be pulled in for the same reason he was.
"It's kind of a cliché thing to say but there is no action time-travel comedy that pushes the envelope this far," he says. "This show, to me, there's nothing like it."
Future Man's entire first season launches Tuesday on Hulu.